In part one we covered the first two days of our tour. In the second and final part we’ll go over day three (ouch, my ribs hurt just at the thought), get Courtney’s view of how the tour works from a newbie perspective, and wrap it all up with some details on just what you need to know about doing an AdMo-Primm tour.
KNOCKING THE WIND OUT OF MY SAILS (Day 3)
According to Uwe, today was a typical example of what a one-day tour would encompass. The destination was to be the Mojave National Reserve and the Lava Beds – where the native Indians had drawn petroglyphs on the outcrops and super-hot trapped gasses formed cavernous lava tubes.
The track out of Primm is a relatively smooth old gold mining trail that takes us up into the Clark Mountain Range. Uwe is still confident in my abilities and suggests I take a diversion to check out an old open-pit mine, while he and Courtney head on to the Mojave.
It’s not far off the trail and reveals itself as a huge hole in the ground, with a spiral trail down to the blue waters at the bottom. The occasional rock fall remnants remind me that maybe I should keep the noise levels down, and I roll around the bowl gingerly in top gear, resting for a while at the bottom to take in the spectacle.
The ride up is a tad more spirited though and I join the main trail down a dry wash at a decent clip. The next thing I know, my mind has drifted and I’m brought back to the here and now with a slap, as I realize that my front end is starting to wash out in a relatively nothing corner.
I’m too late coming out of my haze and the wheel slide is quicker than my lagging reactions. The next thing I know, my shoulder hits the deep gravel as the bike low-sides to an indignant stop. What the …?
Bike and rider appear to be fine, but it’s a rude realization that I’m getting tired and not putting the required concentration in to keep everything dandy. I take a few minutes to gather my thoughts, check that my aching ribs are not aching too much and get straight back on the horse.
Courtney and Uwe are waiting at the end of the trail. I confess my faux-pas. Uwe leads.
GASPING FOR AIR
The roads firm up and I’m happy to be able to rest a while as we hit a section of pavement just before entering the Mojave Reserve. But it’s the calm before the storm, and we leave the safety of pavement straight onto a trail of deep sand.
I hate sand. Well, I hate deep sand. Okay, I hate deep sand for extended periods.
So far it’s been for relatively short periods and I’ve been able to keep my concentration set to maximum. Hell, I’ve actually had some fun practicing throttle and weight bias techniques for maximum control. I even thought that my dire relationship with crushed silica might just be turning good.
But this trail just keeps going and going. It’s a mass of tire tracks, swaying drunkenly and intermingling, making picking one — and sticking to it — a huge feat of concentration. Veer off and you’re in the really soft bit – and the bike starts to go all squirrelly. I notice that I’m finding it difficult to override my natural fear response and just pin it.
Masses of concentration save me numerous times, but the trail seems never-ending. I’m behind Courtney, as I was worried that she’d be having a tough time, but she’s standing up and letting the bike do whatever it wants, totally unfazed.
I’m not covering her any more; I’m trying to keep up.
Two and a half days of dirt riding have taken their toll on me and as I hit a mild left-hander my rut becomes one of three and I manage to miss them all.
A Joshua tree appears ahead of me – the bars start to wiggle, but I’m too late to pull them back straight. They slap right, then left and out of my hands. The bike pivots over hard onto its right side and I’m slammed head first into the soft sand.
It isn’t as soft as it looks, and as I slowly roll over onto my back I realize that I can no longer breathe. I’m aware that I’ve winded myself, so I sit up and try to work out how to breathe manually.
Nothing happens and my mind starts to wonder at what point I should start panicking … and do what exactly? Run around and motion to the Joshua trees that I’m in trouble before passing out? No, just wait ‘arris.
Twenty seconds later and I get a small breath. At last! But it’s just a teaser and I have to wait 10 more agonizing seconds for another. Feck.
Five minutes later, Uwe comes back to see where I’d gotten to. By now I’m breathing without interruption, but it’s short gentle breaths as anything more has a tendency to stall out the whole process.
I grin (between breaths) and confess my mishap to Uwe, who confirms neither the bike nor I are in danger of not being able to continue. I remount.
I have a big quandary. Behind me lays a shit load of soft sand – ahead more of the same. Go slow and the front end sinks in and you fall off. Go fast and the front glides over it … mostly. I go as fast as I can bear and spend the next half hour spitting out sand.
PETROGLYPHS, LAVA TUBES AND MORE SAND
Thankfully the trail gradually firms up and before long we’ve stopped to wander over and see the petroglyphs. Uwe and Courtney are obviously impressed by the mixture of lines and squiggles before us – I’m just happy to be off the bike without being body-slammed first.
Next stop is a lava tube and we follow Uwe down a rickety ladder and into the darkness. The tube quickly gets to the point where I’m on hands and knees and I suddenly realize that if Uwe decided to turn off his pencil-light, I’d be engulfed in black.
I feel slightly claustrophobic.
Thankfully it’s only a moment, and we enter a large cavern. Ahead a shaft of light illuminates the room dimly but dramatically. I think it was breathtaking, but I’d already had my breath taken, so I couldn’t be sure.
From here it’s time to head back to base and I’m horrified to find that the Mojave Reserve appears to consist of nothing but deep sand trails. Uwe senses my apprehension and we discuss technique.
“Use your rear brake if things get out of shape. The rear brake will always calm a motorcycle” (or something like … and in a Swiss accent).
There’s nothing for it except to attack it, but I keep the toes of my right foot over the rear brake lever and at the slightest sign of trouble dab it hard.
Sure enough, the petulance comes to a stop quicker than a spoilt three year-old’s tantrum after getting a jolt off a Tazer. It’s the magic bullet that I’ve been missing all my dirt-riding life and although I’m not exactly enjoying the deep sand, I’m no longer retaining the bike’s seat cover between my arse cheeks (and I’m standing up!).
The finale is a route through some tight, V-shaped canyons. Uwe shoots off ahead and although I’m no racer, I’m in my element and manage to bring the DR-Z out the other side in one piece and in reasonable time. Courtney comes out a little later – back to newbie status after her brilliance in the sand.
Uwe asks if we’d like to take the final run into Primm over some last trails or opt out and take the I15 interstate in. We unanimously opt for the highway, so exhausted are we that even the promise of another three months of winter back home keeps us from a last trail.
Back at Primm, Uwe packs up the bikes, we change back into our civvies and take to the rental car for a couple of days in Death Valley.
We’re exhausted but grinning wildly. It’s been a quite amazing three days, but the third day had me beat. The altogether fitter Courtney had a much better day three, but I’ll leave it for her to talk about next.
THE NEWBIE VIEW By Courtney Hay
When Rob suggested a dual-sport adventure ride in the desert I didn’t hesitate to sign-on. But reality quickly sunk in as I thought about a few cold hard facts: I’ve only ridden a motorcycle for 3 months, my only dirt experience was a two-day Rally Connex tour, and I couldn’t flat foot my own KLR650C – let alone imagine how I would handle the very tall DR-Z 400S.
My skill level is most definitely novice, and it being mid-winter in Canada, I couldn’t do much about bringing up my riding skills before the trip.
But I could at least crank up my fitness level: I started running a few more times per week and did as many push-ups as I could muster at then end of each run – just in case Rob was too far ahead to help if I dropped my bike.
I figured I would have to rely on being fit enough, keeping a level head, and riding at my own pace if I stood half a chance of making it through three days of desert.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
After some quick instructions from Uwe on how to handle the bike and come to a stop without falling over, I was ready for the desert and the adventure that awaited. Although what level of difficulty we would encounter I still really didn’t know.
At the first break of the morning on day one, Uwe asked me to rate the section we had just ridden on a scale of 1 to 10 for difficulty.
It was an easy hard-packed dirt trail, gently curvy but wide enough for two. I was feeling confident and having a blast – sure, I hadn’t been able to ride faster than first gear through it, but I was certain I could handle more challenging terrain if necessary. I rated it a five.
Had I known what was just around the corner I would have rated it a very tough ten, and said thanks for a great intro to the desert, gone back home and left it to the pros.
Minutes later I was no longer weaving happily along a trail, but white-knuckling the handlebars, standing stiffly over the gas tank and trying desperately not to focus on the sheer drop-off to my side.
I was concentrating for all my worth just to pick a route through the rocky climb, while repeating the golden rule: look where I want to go and the bike will follow.
But the DRZ and I had not yet bonded, and although it didn’t throw me off into the valley below, I dropped it for the first of many times shortly afterward.I couldn’t pick up the bike by myself, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep going – I was that terrified. But Rob and Uwe were both very patient and let me go through my learning curve.
I kept going, but this was to be my experience for the rest of day one: either terrified or feeling completely at ease, nothing in between. I dropped the bike a few more times but was able to pick it up myself and this helped regain some confidence, which had plummeted to about nil.
At least the push-ups were paying off.
I had to pull from the depths of my life experiences to get through the first day; years of mountain biking, skiing, and treeplanting surely helped keep my mind on task.
Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, but I sure could have used some basic dirt riding skills.
GETTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Even though I made it through the previous day — and the treat at the end that was the dry lake bed — day two would be much more of a mental game because my confidence at the start was zero. But still, there was something tempting about going out there and thrashing through it all over again.
I think this partly had to do with a skilled guide: Uwe already had a good sense of my skill level (or rather, lack of) and also what I might enjoy as a challenge, maybe more than I knew myself. This was true for Rob as well, as he was often sent off on his own to explore and rendezvous a little further ahead.Although I never got completely comfortable in the rocky sections, I was slowly getting the feel of the bike. Watching Rob and Uwe ride — with confidence and apparent glee — I couldn’t help but learn something. And when we got to the spectacular Dumont Dunes I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime to ride them. Just pin it and look where I wanted to go, they said.
It was an amazing feeling – like skiing first tracks in a huge powder bowl, sans avalanche danger. The big DRZ and I definitely bonded in the = sand dunes – every time I made an error after that, a little nudge on the throttle and the bike saw me through.
This is not to say that I didn’t have more terrifying moments – there were plenty more, but the high from the sand dunes couldn’t be beat.
And so by the afternoon of day two things were much better and overall the day was a great combination of challenging riding and stunning scenery, which I fortunately saw more of this time.
We woke up to another perfect winter day on day three, and again were presented with a good variety of terrain and challenge.I was still not improving very much in the rocky terrain and found the lava routes to be really tricky, as the bike just felt so much heavier in this stuff. The little bit of physical trainingmwas helping though, as I was running on reserves by this point.
By the afternoon we were back on familiar single-track sand through Joshua tree desert – and this was surely heaven.I loved the sand! I could go fast (don’t get me wrong, my fast is still pretty slow – about 40 mph!) and it felt relaxing standing up. The bike would bounce around lightly here and there, but nothing a little throttle wouldn’t straighten out.
Stopping was another situation though. At one point I realized I had missed a turn and it took quite a while to figure out how to slow down without driving the front-end into the sand and near-crashing.
The other little issue was that I was really piss-poor at doing anything but going straight – if I wasn’t already rolling; turning the bike around was practically impossible, and the slightest mishap off-trail would send me running for help.Again, basic dirt skills would be a really smart idea!
All in all this was a fantastic tour from an adventure riding perspective, and as much challenge as I could handle. It can be a fine line between being scared off the sport and an adventure of a lifetime though.
In the end it was an adventure of a lifetime, but I will definitely be signing up for dirt school as soon as this year’s season allows!
CONCLUSIONS By Editor ‘arris
It’s not been as easy as I’d expected to define what skill levels you need to participate in this ride. I’ve been riding dirt (albeit in a dual-sport capacity) for a few years now and expected to be the one setting the pace.That was true for the first couple of days, but Courtney’s comfort with the sand and superior fitness level shone through on day three. I think had the sand been either on day one or two, then I might have gotten away sans incident – tiredness is the first cause of any mishap, I find.
One thing’s for sure, the AdMo tour is quite refreshing in its determination to not be a hand-holding, five-star pampering. Dual-sporting is not about that, rather about getting out there, pushing your limits, and occasionally finding out just where they actually are.
I learnt a lot in my three days in the desert, and I’ll be keen to see how they affect my riding come the spring in Canada. I also realized that I need to get myself back in shape!
Hmmhh, maybe a trip down to the California dual-sport school in March is in order?
To check out info on the tour itself and which places to stay, click here (note – all prices are as of 2006!).